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2019.06.05 18:00

Campaigning on social media during Lithuania’s presidential election exposes legal loopholes

LRT TV naujienų tarnyba, LRT.lt2019.06.05 18:00

During this year's presidential campaign, the Lithuanian Central Electoral Commission received over 50 reports about suspected campaigning rules violations on social media. Lack of clear rules and effective monitoring mean the the dividing line between commentary and political campaigning is problematic.

Comedian Olegas Šurajevas has a wide following on Facebook, and is known for his political satire on social media. His comments on a former Vilnius mayor candidate, as well as his support for Ingrida Simonyte during the presidential campaign, were seen by his numerous followers.

Šurajevas sees his posts on Facebook as personal opinion and not political campaigning, yet the distinction depends on personal motives, he says.

“We need to understand the motives and [also] look at the person's history,” says Šurajevas. “If they make money by selling opinion, then sure,” social media posts should be subject to campaigning rules like advertising on other media, he says.

After receiving over 50 reports on suspected campaigning rules violations on social media, the Central Electoral Commission was swamped. “We are simply unable to control all the flows of information on social media,” says the commission's chairwoman Laura Matjošaitytė.

Moreover, she adds, the commission does not believe it should track every voter's Facebook posts if they are not paid for by politicians.

Aistė Žilinskienė, chairwoman of the Online Media Association, says that there is no clear definition of what constitutes political advertising on social media.

“It is not described in the laws in any way,” she says. “We need to have a thorough discussion and set the criteria: what is considered political advertising on social media and what isn’t.”

While campaigning rules need to be updated for the social media age, they must not interfere with people's right to express opinions, says Marija Šaraitė, the head of the White Gloves organization that promotes electoral transparency.

“We want the civil society to grow stronger. The more active citizens get involved into civil campaigns, the better chance that they will motivate other people to take interest in politics, in elections and to come vote,” she says. “We need to ensure freedom and avoid too much control.”

Lithuania's Consumer Rights Protection Authority has been monitoring social media posts by ten biggest influencers since January, looking for unmarked product placement. Communication expert Arijus Katauskas says that political advertising will need to be monitored in a similar way.

“So far, there hasn't been any monitoring. And it's a given fact that we will need to do it, in one form or another,” he says.

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